Learning about asanas

The first week of the YTT has indeed been a fruitful one, and I thought I’d just reflect on what I’ve learned about asanas during this period.
People often equate yoga with asanas, and I was easily one of them, despite having heard quite a number of times that asana is merely a small part of yoga. Hence, I was a little surprised to learn that yoga is defined as “yogah citta vritti nirodhah”, which refers broadly to the cessation of “mental distractions” such that one achieves Samadhi (or spiritual meta-consciousness), and therefore freedom from within. On the other hand, asana originally refers to seated posture, but may be referred to as a steady and comfortable pose. Most of the asanas I do now are however best described as unsteady and uncomfortable, especially when held for long. To improve, I learned that I’ve got to focus my mind on a drishti (single-pointed gaze), and keep my breath consistent, deep and calm. As Master Paalu mentioned, there would be a transition period from effortful to effortless, and that would take years of dedicated practice. When it becomes more effortless, we would be moving closer toward the heart of “yogah citta vritti nirodhah”. Currently, I have to consciously remind myself to move with my breath through the asanas as my body has been conditioned to start panting when my heart rate goes up in the fast-flowing Surya Namaskara A and B.
I’m also very glad that there’s a lot of focus on perfect and precise alignment, which I’ve come to know to be important as each asana functions as physiotherapy/rehabilitation by instilling muscle memory which then translates into our daily activities in the long run. Alignment is also important as it ensures safety in our practice. For instance, it is only through this course that I realize I’ve been doing Chaturanga Dandasana wrongly; I was unaware that the arms have to form a 90 degree angle to the ground, meaning that I’ve got to lean way more forward in plank before lowering down into Chaturanga. What I’ve been doing all this while was wrongly aligned as my arms formed a smaller than 90 degree angle, which could predispose me to elbow pain in the future, as explained by Hui Yan. I think I did it wrongly because I hadn’t developed enough strength in my triceps and front shoulder muscles. Chaturanga is still very tough for me, however, I am now more mindful of my alignment.
What is really interesting to note is the precision of alignment in asanas. So far, I’m noticing that most, if not all, asanas that I’m learning have to be in 45, 90 or 180 degree angles. For example, in Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1), the back foot has to be turned outward 45 degrees from the heel and for the front leg, the knee has to be stacked directly above the ankle (180 degrees), such that the thigh is parallel to the ground and forms a 90 degree angle to the shin. Another asana that taught me a lot about perfect alignment is sirsasana (headstand). I’m still a long way to go to perfecting my alignment as my body is still learning how to engage the correct muscles and how to orient myself whilst being upside down. In theory, I know that a strong sirsasana comes with a stable foundation, meaning strong arms, shoulders and core. Also, I have been reminded numerous times by Master Paalu to adjust my ASIS. There have been only a few moments when I somehow got my ASIS position right and I stayed in sirsasana for a few seconds before I lost it again. Therefore, a strong sirsasana would require a 180 degree stacking of the ear, shoulder, hips, knees and ankle, or in other words, a neutral lumbar curve.
I also learned that every asana involves both grounding myself down into my mat and lifting upward toward the sky. This seems a little contradictory at first, but I guess it really helps to stabilize the asanas by creating a state of balance.
That’s all for now.
200h YTT (Jul/Aug 2015)

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